An Ochlocknee Hat Trick

My daughter and I have sworn off politics this electoral season in that we both think our two presidential candidates are equally corrupt and deplorable.

My daughter suggested I write about some of my more memorable moments so as to record them before I pass. I don’t care for the term, die, it is so immediate and short on descriptive adjectives. I would rather compare myself with General Douglas MacArthur who said” old solders never die, they just fade away.” That’s me, just biding my time, and sailing off into a beautiful crimson and yellow sunset over one of those Florida bays or the Gulf of Mexico. The sheen of the ocean and the lapping of the waves against the hull, the placid surreal landscape of your imagination lullabying you into eternal rest like a mother patting and wooing her child to sleep.

Ochlocknee is a place but so much more because of the memories that well up in my mind and of the people that shared those memories with me. Ochlocknee River, for me, begins at Hosford, Florida, at the dam, and proceeds from there, down to the Gulf of Mexico at Carrabelle, Florida. It flows through one of the most pristine and undeveloped areas of North Florida. It’s included in the Apalachicola National Forest but in the old days we called it “Tate’s Hell”. I remember listening to my dad and my uncles talk about the ground that shook. It was swampland and they told of shaking one tree and all the trees around you would quiver. They told of people getting lost in there and never being found and of the panthers screaming at you at night. The very things that cranked up a young boy’s imagination and daydreams of adventure.

My dad talked of hunting those places but never took his boys because we usually hunted squirrels on the big river, the Apalachicola River, at Van Horn Landing. It was there, at the age of 10 or 11 that I first got myself lost. I guess the older men knew we wouldn’t get into any trouble because you were hunting between the river and the highway. Heck! They were so drunk on white lightning that they didn’t even notice me missing until the people who brought me back pulled up in their car. I remember my dad taking a big swig from the gallon jug (jar) on the hood of one of the cars and spitting it out and cursing like the devil’s own advocate. He had taken a swig of cooking oil.

So many memories! We usually had squirrel stew cooked over an open fire. Brown paper mill paper lean-tos and palmetto frowns matting to sleep on, which the young boys got to go cut and drag back to camp. God! We were actually camping and I was wheeling an axe. My older brother, Gene, and my brother-in-law Joel, killed their first buck deer on Forb’s Island. We usually had squirrel, duck, turkey and a hog or two in our hunting larder.

Later on in life we; my brother, Gene, my best friend, Allen Tice, and various assorted friends and relatives branched out like pilgrims looking for new hunting grounds and adventure. If you turn south at Hosford, Fla. and proceed south and then turn left at Telogia, Fla. towards Carrabelle, Fla you come upon White’s landing or White Oak Landing. We checked out the landing and boat launch and talked to the proprietor, Mr. Whitehead. Mr. Whitehead lived in one of those turn of the century Dog Trot houses with a large open center hallway with rooms on each side with the kitchen attached. You never saw him unless you noticed the snuff running down his chin and his stained tee shirt. He was wary of us and we leery of him at first but he became one of our dearest friends. He showed us his old rifles, some calibers I had never even heard of. He talked of killing black bear that got into his bees. He told us that as long as he lived we were welcome to camp and hunt there. It was a long friendship and we grieved when we heard of his passing.

At first we rented his cypress planked fishing cabins with pots and pans and quilts for a grand total of $6.00 a day, $10.00 for the week end. We started carrying the women folk and making camping week ends which were really big drunks but we did kill a lot of game. This was a splendid place with all the live oaks covered in Spanish moss and the crystal clear water of the river and the white sand bars, Just the place to carry the women folk and kids.

We began camping down from the Big House (homestead) after Allen Tice’s wife, Debbie, ran face to face with a large rat. I remember her coming out of that cabin like her ass was on fire with the most startled bewildered look you can imagine. Of course the men and boys looked for the demon and laughed under our breath but we never stayed in one of those cabins again. It was tents, lawn chairs and water coolers from then on.

I have so many stories about that place because we camped and hunted there for years. It was during archery and muzzle loading seasons that we hunted on the Ochlocknee, during late September and October. I can see this will be lengthy because I can literally write a book about all our adventures there.

This story is about me hunting so I best get to it. Someone dropped me off up river. We usually ran up river during the pre-dawn or early afternoon and listened for hogs and then hopped out and proceeded to hunt. The river is beautiful and clear but full of logs and fallen trees. Some years, when it was dry, we couldn’t even run upstream but had to go down river for deeper water. The designated boat operator would come down river during the late morning or late evening and pick up everyone. We then proceeded back to camp and drank and swam during the middle of the day. Yea! Swim! I saw the biggest alligator of my life on that river walking across a sandbar and I could see a foot of daylight under his belly, easily 12 to 14 foot long. I remember gaping at the monster but was startled by the blast of a muzzle loader. My best friend, Allen Tice had fired a round right beside my ear. The gator escaped but I wuz deaf

In this story, the river swamp was very dry and I was muzzle loading hunting with my 50 caliber Hawkins. You really couldn’t walk or slip around because of the dead leaves and brush. I located a bunch of hogs feeding in the river reeds. I attempted to make a stalk but startled them and they all rushed off in a loud brush busting melee. I eased back down into the dried creek bed and worked it up stream because it was sandy due to some rainfall. I couldn’t find them anywhere so I eased back down the creek bed and they were back in the same place again.

I stewed over whether to try and stalk them again but then noticed a large old tree stump on the edge of the creek bed. It was a large yellow pine stump that remained of the pines were that were timbered at the turn of the century. I laboriously eased myself up the bank and atop the stump without spooking any of them. The river reeds were about chest high or taller and I could see them moving as the hogs fed. With due diligence I abided the time and waited.

Sure enough I saw the reeds parting and something coming my way. A large black and white feral hog approached my tree stump and I muzzle loaded it quite properly! I was so close I think I powder burned her(sow). The hog let out a big grunt and ran as most animals do. No game falls right there unless it’s a spine shot. It didn’t run very far because I heard it stop and thrash about. I was content and excited because I had made a kill. Such are the bragging rights among a bunch of men “Here’s to the Bull that rambles the woods and does them little heifers so much darn good, if it wasn’t for me and my long slender rod(gun), they’d be no meat in the gravy in this camp tonight By God!”

As I stood on the tree stump and re-loaded my muzzle loader, the quietness returned. I listened and waited patiently for my hog to bleed out and die. You don’t want to rush a shot animal because they will often run off again, making it harder to find them. I guess about 15 or 20 minutes had elapsed and I heard the hogs coming back again. I guess there were some good groceries there for them because I had ran them off twice and here they came again. Another black hog approached but not as close. I aimed at a large black torso in the reeds and fired. Again a grunt and a loud brush busting departure. I stood on the stump and marked the last place I saw the brush part as it departed to mark it so I could find its blood trail.

I was filling pretty rambunctious at this moment. I got off my stump and found my first hog and field dressed it. I then proceeded across to where I thought I had last seen the second hog but couldn’t find the blood trail. I then returned to my stump to get a good dead reckoning on the spot. While I was on my stump, three deer came running in and stopped about 50 yards away. They had scented me or the hogs and were standing still with their noses twitching and tails swatting. One of them was a small spike with about 6 inch tines. I took careful aim and fired. When the smoke cleared I saw two white flags disappearing but I caught some disturbance where they had been so I knew I had hit him. Again I waited until everything subsided and approached the spike. It was dead, I had hit him in the spine so he hadn’t gone anywhere. I field dressed him and then went back to my stump, got a bead on my second hog and went and found him and I field dressed him. I spent the rest of the morning getting two hogs and a spike buck back to the river bank. Thank God I was only about a 100 yards from the river.

Needless to say when that boat rounded the corner and approached me I was some kind of pleased. I forget who was on the boat but they all smiled with that chagrined smile of appreciation and cursed lady luck that it hadn’t been one of them. Yea! Jealousy!

I suppose I could write a book and call it the escapades of Greg and Gene Moore but you would have to mention Allen Tice and all the women folk and kids. Let me tell one more story before I end this.

Middle of the day, all of us sitting around drinking beer and enjoying. My brother, Gene, noticed or had noticed a large hornets nest in one of the large white oaks on the river bank. The longer he stared at it the drunker he got or let’s say his courage increased exponentially. He wasn’t real drunk because he later climbed the tree as we all watched with expectation. Yea! It’s coming! He, Gene, got it in his head that he wanted this nest. He had seen one at the taxidermy shop that had been varnished with a section cut out and some dried hornets attached to it. He decided he was going to make one for himself. He stood a ways off and fired his muzzle loader at the base of the branch the nest was on. This became sport for all of us. We men took turns trying to blast this limb free of the trunk and let it fall. Being plied with a lot of beer none of us were very accurate and finally Mr. Whitehead came down to the camp to see what was afoot. He stated we might be disturbing his mule so we desisted our efforts. My brother was not to be defeated so he climbed the tree to the mortar bombed branch that we had mangled and assaulted with our errant muzzle loaders. With his pocket knife, he began carve at the branch but instead of the branch falling free, it sort of just dropped and bumped against the trunk of the oak.

WELL! There were a few hundred hornets that didn’t take to kindly to our endeavors. As the rest of us sought cover from this black cloud of hornets, I spied my brother Gene pressed against the oak trunk trying to go un-noticed. My brother said he was doing fine until several of them got in his beard and one tried going up his nose. He then bailed out of that tree like an Olympic high diver( somewhere between a 5 or 8 score; "A" for effort but not too much on accuracy or form). He was trying to reach the river with this magnificent high dive but landed in about a foot of water at the river’s edge. None of us could approach him because of all the angry bees so we kept our distance and laughed so hard we were on the ground. We looked down the river at where he landed and saw that he was moving and not dead so we continued to roll around on the ground with laughter. He survived with no injuries except his pride. It’s not the end of the story.

The next week end we returned to hunt and camp again. This time my brother brought a telescoping saw and cut the branch off and let it fall. Again a black cloud of hornets but we were far enough away and continued about our routine. On Sunday we all loaded up the boats and camping gear and proceeded to leave. The hornets had calmed down so my brother went over and very quickly scooped the nest up in a black plastic bag. He tapped it shut with masking tape. Wow! You ought to have heard that bag of hornets. Boy! They were mad!

I could tell my brother had been thinking on this because he explained his plan to Allen Tice and I. He would get in the boat with the bag of hornets and as we started rolling he would cut a hole in the bag and then jump off the boat and get into the truck. As we proceeded down the highway, all the hornets would fly out and we would leave them behind. All things planned he would have an empty, hornet free, nest upon arriving home. The best laid plans of men and mice often go astray because we had to stop for gas. While Allen Tice was filling his pickup, my brother and I swatted hornets with boat paddles. Thank God there weren’t too many of them by this time. Lord I laugh at us. I wonder if my nephew( Gene's son), still has that hornet’s nest. My brother dried and varnished it and it became one of the many curios amongst all his other trophies. This is for you Gene, my brother and best friend. Allen Tice also who was also my best friend and Joel Hall, my brother in law. Lets all go drink some Rooster Bullets!(private joke)